Sam Perkins, headed to the NBA Finals for the first time, has his own ideas about why the Lakers have gotten this far. Others would say _ and have said _ that Perkins himself represents a big reason why the Lakers are back in the championship round, preparing for today's series opener in Chicago against the Bulls. He's not at all sure about that, although his 26 points despite a sore left thigh played a big role in Thursday's 91-90 victory over Portland that wrapped up the Western Conference finals.
No, Perkins says, the difference is attitude. The Lakers have it. Other teams _ such as the Dallas Mavericks, with whom he played for six seasons before coming west as a free agent _ don't.
"In Dallas, you had to get geared up to think you could win it," Perkins said. "You were always a contender and an overachiever. It was hard to really convince players that they could win it with a lot of hard work.
"Here, it's different. They know they can win it. They know they're going to be in the thick of things to the end. The players feel a little more pride here. In Dallas, you were on the borderline thinking that you could or couldn't. Here, it's three steps up higher. You have the talent, and you're the Lakers.
"In Dallas, the focus of the players wasn't at the same level as it is here. You had to keep constantly thinking you could win it by doing this or that, specifically. Here, it's knowing that your season doesn't end until June, as opposed to players telling themselves that the season ends in April."
Call it attitude, call it mystique. Call it, even, Magic Johnson's influence.
The result is that the Lakers are back in the Finals for the ninth time in the 12 seasons Johnson has been here, and they will be looking for their sixth championship.
And that state of mind may have had something to do with the Lakers' success against Portland in the last round. While the Lakers stayed with their game plan even when struggling, the Trail Blazers _ who loudly proclaimed that the mystique was dead as the series began _ succumbed to impatience and occasionally even panic.
Perkins has seen that act before. In his six seasons in Dallas, the Mavericks played the Lakers in two playoff series. One went six games, the other went seven, and both went to the Lakers.
The cast and the style may have been different _ both series were in the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar era and the period in which Showtime was at its peak _ but the Lakers' attitude didn't vary.
"They had been here so many times, as opposed to us trying to get here so many times, and we didn't know what it was like," Perkins said.